Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Are Democrats Responsible for Baltimore?

By request, reader Dave wants to know what to make of the Democrats-Are-Responsible-For-The-Baltimore-Riots meme (Omnivore readers are disproportionately named Dave--if your name is some form of Dave, David, or Davis you are hereby required to recruit two other non-Dav-ish regular readers to bring The Omnivore back into balance. If you are a Dave that works at Google or have worked for the Department of Defense you should have ample tools at your disposal. Get on it).

What's This 'Dave' Guy Talking About?
Google 'Democrats' and 'Baltimore' and you'll see. Here is a smattering:
The points are:
  1. The last time Baltimore had a Republican mayor was 1967! It's all Democrats since then, baby.
  2. The city has awful schools but ranks near the top on money-per-student: That's The Democrat party's signature achievement--inefficient expensive crappy schools.
  3. The unions (teachers, especially--but others) are strangling the life out of Baltimore.
  4. If the city was prosperous Democrats would take credit, wouldn't they?
  5. The city raised taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985 causing entrepreneurs to flee. Companies that do move in need to stay in good graces with politicians for subsidies--a corruption engine!
  6. The city's growth model has been big government-driven projects that are flashy but don't "trickle down" to the creation of wealth.
Is this true? Is Baltimore the iconic Democratic city?

Not Exactly
While pablum about bad unions and who was mayor when is a decent set of talking points--and questions about how much money is spent on schools--and how it's spent is certainly relevant to the finer points of politics, cost per student isn't much of a measure of anything: the highest places on the list tend to have pretty good schools. For example, red-state Alaska spends a load of money on schools (around 17k per student, like the 3rd highest) but clocks in at #22 on the test-scores list. True Blue New York  spends like 19k per student and scores a pretty high 12th on the list. Now, maybe Baltimore Teacher's Unions are especially malignant--but that's gotta be proven (also, be fair, some states like Utah are cheap on education and also score well on tests).

What about tax rates? The correlation is more telling here. The higher-tax cities seem to be worse places to live in general than lower-tax ones. Bridgeport CT is considered dirty and dangerous (that's for CT--it isn't that bad compared to cities in general). In addition, Detroit and Wilmington DE also make the list of high-tax cities that The Omnivore wouldn't want to live in.

That said, correlation isn't causation: high tax rates may be a municipal response to crime rather than a driver of it (more police require more taxes).

For Teacher's Unions, the states that score strongest vs. weakest teachers unions are kind of a mixed bag in how the states perform. There just isn't a strong correlation--especially in light of other factors like the poverty of students. Strong and well funded schools can produce impressive results--or not so impressive results (strongest teacher's union is Hawaii is mixed, the next strongest OR isn't great, but PA is #4 in teacher's union strength and they're green. Vermont is #11 and they're the very best on the chart).

The Omnivore concludes, looking at these articles (and city data was harder to find than state data) that things like tax rates, teacher's unions, and cost-per-student seem to have less direct bright-line connection to riots than the authors of the above are claiming).

However, The Omnivore will give the conservative authors one thing for sure: Spending a lot of money to try and fix an urban standard-of-living problem isn't any kind of magic bullet. Whatever is going on with Baltimore, it's a hole with no bottom in that respect.

So What About Baltimore?
If it isn't a litany of failed Democratic policies, what else could it be? What happened to Baltimore? The Omnivore is no expert--but let's reach a Wikipedia-Wisdom Level of history:

So Who's To Blame?
The practice of Blockbusting--the practice of real estate agents and developers to encourage white flight by using racial fears to imply that blacks were moving in, while illegal (made illegal by the Civil Rights act, introduced by a Democrat and passed by Johnson--also a Democrat), seems to have been a major factor in the the story of Baltimore from the 1950's onwards. The war on drugs (a term popularized by Nixon and expanded by Ronald Reagan--both Republicans) has also been cited as a major factor in the creation of urban war-zones.

Finally, The Omnivore will speculate that high levels of lead--correlated with criminal behavior--have played a role in Baltimore's urban decay. Those houses have existed since the 20's and were the result of an explicitly segregationist housing policy. They have been linked to behavioral and criminal problems and Freddy Gray and many, many others grew up in such homes.

So do Democrats own this problem? No--not the way that the links above make it out to be. Baltimore is the result of numerous policies, garden-variety racism, the conditions that came to a boil in the 60's. At the end of the day, pinning this all on teacher's unions and The Great Society is just partisan nonsense.


  1. Oi!

    "The Daves are the men who will not be blamed for nothing."

    If it was true in 1888, it must be true now. Sort of.

    So there! Sort of.

    -- Ω